Returning to Indianapolis as part of his latest national tour for his single Young, Latin & Proud, Helado Negro will bring the bilingual ballads and visually stunning performance for which he's famous to Fountain Square's Hi-Fi next Wednesday.
Headlines about his current hit single read as stark comparisons to Donald Trump’s recent statements about Mexicans in the United States. The son of Ecuadorian immigrants, Roberto Carlos Lange (better known in the music world as Helado Negro) describes the origin of his mix of Spanish and English lyrics in his music.
He says it came from having grown up in South Florida where he says almost everyone speaks Spanish. And in Miami, for example, the billboards and much of the signage on stores and businesses is printed in Spanish.
“You walk in somewhere and you speak Spanish to someone, then you walk to the place next door and you speak in English,” he explains. “That feeling of having two brains -- these things interact with each other and look to each other and interface with each other as language and co-exist.”
Lange wrote Young Latin & Proud as a message to himself as a 7-year-old, an age he saw as a time of growth in personal awareness, evolving within society and figuring things out.
“I didn’t really understand who I was sometimes -- not in a lost kind of sense, but just like it was just odd to have all these different experiences. Not everyone was having these same experiences,” he says.
But as Lange grew older, he identified and became “more attached to” his culture and upbringing. He learned to appreciate his place within numerous cultures -- ranging from all over South America, Caribbean, European and Anglo-American populations. As such, his music influences were limitless.
- Courtesy Asthmatic Kitty
Helado Negro prides himself on his idiosyncratic production values.
His hit single has resonated with Latino youth who exist at the crossroads of merging cultures -- those who find themselves in limbo and unable to identify with either side.
In response to the political interpretation of his work, Lange says, “Anything that you put out there in the world, people take it for themselves and it’s good. That’s what it’s there for.”
The song is also a culmination of Helado Negro’s trajectory with exploring language as a medium in his music. His early work was crafted with words he liked in Spanish, but now he composes using both languages.
“It’s intuitive. I speak Spanish, and I speak English,” the musician says. “So I don’t think speaking Spanish or English is political; I think it’s the language in which I communicate.”
His mode of expression -- a combination of electronic music and art performance -- is telling of an ability to undress from preconceptions and understand the construction of the self. After being asked to perform at Vive Latino, one of Mexico’s biggest music festivals, Lange saw an opportunity to evolve his performances.
“When you go to a festival the stages are so big, it’s just kind of visually ugly. You get distracted by the dude on the side of the stage drinking a beer,” he says.
So he sought to create a more aesthetically conscious stage presence and produced a couple of silver tinsel costumes that resemble a beautiful version of Cousin It to accompany him and reflect the lights on the stage.
As a college student in Savannah, Georgia, a young Lange was influenced by Canadian filmmaker Norman McClaren, a pioneer in animation, visual music, abstract film and graphical sound, who took a medium and decided to approach it in a completely different way.
- Courtesy Helado Negro
If you can't make it to the Hi-Fi next Wednesday, you can catch Helado Negro in Cincinnati tomorrow night.
“That’s what inspires me a lot in my own music -- how to continually try to do that and approach things as tools that exist, approach them in a completely different way and come out on the other end with something that is even more challenging, even more interesting for me and exciting,” he says.
His performance concept has evolved to be built around movement, music and even choreographed professional dancers.
Now the suits are taking this whole other evolutionary path where Lange is working with them a lot more, developing the choreography further. He has since performed in various art museums and institutions, including Ordway Concert Hall in Minnesota and at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Additionally, Helado Negro is scheduled to perform atCincinnati's Contemporary Art Center, and Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit as part of his present tour.
In Indy, a city which some see as a place still coming to grips with and trying to understand its Latino-American population, Helado Negro will be a refreshing break from the usual representations of Hispanic culture.
Too much reverence for tradition can run the risk of turning stale and losing meaning, especially when performed repeatedly without context or depth. Still, children of immigrants uniquely assimilate to the surrounding culture, which gives way to new forms of expression that incorporate mainstream culture and personal heritage in a fresh way.
“I’m Latino because I am. I was just born this way. Not because of the things that are in the culture, but because I’m a part of the culture,” Lange says. “I’m a part of my upbringing. I was a part of that culture. So through that I wasn’t ever trying to change something on purpose. I’m trying to change it because I think that’s where it’s heading. It’s a natural feeling. It’s a natural progression.”
This is what many second- and third-generation (and beyond) Latinos hear when they listen to Lange perform his celebratory bilingual anthem. It provides a sense of Latin pride.
Helado Negro will perform for a cross-cultural crowd at the Hi-Fi next Wednesday, Oct. 14th. Doors will open at 8 p.m. and show will start at 9 p.m. Tickets cost $10-$12.